In the DVD commentary track for Night Watch, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov likens film editing to painting and composing music. Where the painter or musician has colors or notes, the filmmaker’s tools are scenes. “Editing is the movie,” Bekmambetov, a former commercial director, says.
Night Watch is a fascinating and visually extraordinary film of ideas. It artfully mines history, gothic literature, pop culture and the horror and fantasy genres to create a strikingly original mythology. It even tells a hell of a story in which the fate of the world hangs in the outcome. But, like Bekmambetov said, it’s all in the editing.
A film packing such strong visual information and complex concepts would be a chore to sit through if not for good editing. Bekmambetov and his crew pull it off, and teach Hollywood some new tricks. The filmmakers even artfully weave animated subtitles into the visual thread to help move the story along. They secure an energetic pace that’s never too busy or too lethargic. That’s tough to do when you’re making a crazy ass movie about conflicted mystical beings battling oppressed vampires in dank, modern day Moscow.
Russia’s first “blockbuster,” the first of a trilogy based on the novel by Sergey Lukyanenko, tells the story of Light and Dark “Others,” human-looking supernaturals living among us who are constantly in conflict with each other. The film starts out with a savagely charged medieval battle scene between the two forces. A truce is called, a pact is made and life continues. The Light forces create a police agency, called Night Watch, charged with keeping the evil Dark Others in check and the world balanced (a simple metaphor for our own conflicting impulses). The Dark Others, constantly burned by the tilted truce in favor of the Light, plot to take over by convincing a super powerful Other to join the dark side, thus tilting the scale in their favor.